In the Market for a Dog? Know the Code

Row of dogs and puppies I’m helping a friend look for a new puppy. One of the breeds that made it to her short list was the Papillon.  With a little more research, it wasn’t long before the cute little Papillon got crossed off.

Why?

The Code.

What is The Code, you ask?

It’s the positive spin breeders put on their breed descriptions, endorsed by the AKC. And, I believe, it’s a major contributor as to why so many dogs wind up in shelters and rescue situations.

And because I, for one, am sick and tired of people being encouraged to make bad choices in selecting dogs because of misleading information, I’m gonna help you crack The Code.

So let’s get crackin’.

Breed Description Code

In all but the most experienced dog person’s hands, if you read that a dog is:

  • Good with children if raised with them = NOT good with children.
  • Gets long with older children = NOT good with children.
  • With socialization and training, can be quite good with children = NOT good with children.
  • Should be supervised with children and other animals = NOT good with children and other animls.
  • May not be good with small animals = will eat your cat or small dog if left alone with it.
  • Does poorly with other animals =  will eat your cat and small or big dog if left alone with it.
  • Energetic = walking pogo sticks not suitable for small quarters such as the Biltmore.
  • Exuberant = walking pogo sticks not suitable for small quarters such as the Biltmore.
  • Lively and curious = hyperactive.
  • Enthusiastic = hyperactive.
  • Active = hyperactive.
  • Busy = hyperactive.
  • Very active full of nervous energy = hyperactive and neurotic.
  • Rambunctious = body slamming fun.
  • Confident = aggressive tendencies.
  • Alert attitude =  hypervigilant-can’t relax, aggressive tendencies and/or barker.
  • Territorial = aggressive tendencies often with other animals.
  • Dominant = aggressive tendencies.
  • Bold = aggressive tendencies.
  • Wary = aggressive tendencies.
  • Protective = aggressive tendencies
  • Intense = possibly dominant and/or aggressive tendencies.
  • Aloof = usually one-person dogs not good with strangers — or friends — or maybe even other family members. and possibly aggressive.
  • Reserved =  shy and/or usually one-person dogs not good with strangers — or friends — or maybe even other family members. And possibly aggressive.
  • Prefers the company of humans to dogs = may be dog aggressive.
  • Strong prey drive =  likes to chase any moving object and is likely to be animal aggressive, particularly with smaller animals.
  • Likes to herd = likes to chase any moving object, especially younger children, and may nip (read bite) to get its point across.
  • Independent minded = hard to train and/or willful.
  • Highly trainable when motivated = hard to train and/or willful.
  • Obstinate = hard to train and/or willful.
  • Gets bored easily = hard to train and/or willful.
  • Tenacious = willful.
  • Intelligent = easy to train, but if not trained will take over.
  • Strong work drive =  easy to train, but if not trained will take over.
  • Needs frequent grooming = sheds enough hair daily to make its own doppelganger.
  • Courgeous = chooses fight over flight.
  • Good watchdog = barker and/or biter.
  • Noisy = non-stop barker.
  • Tends to vocalize = non-stop barker.
  • Communicative = non-stop barker.
  • Will alert to strangers = non-stop barker.
  • Likes to dig = kiss your gardens and manicured yard goodbye.
  • Likes to run = if you don’t have a fence worthy of a high-security prison, don’t plan on seeing your dog for weeks at time.
  • Tendency to roam =  if you don’t have a fence worthy of a high-security prison, don’t plan on seeing your dog for weeks at time.
  • Mischievous =  don’t leave this dog alone and expect to come home and find your possessions in one piece.
  • Gets bored easily =  don’t leave this dog alone and expect to come home and find your possessions in one piece.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you’re beginning to see how to read between the lines for yourself.

Breeders are in the Business of Selling Dogs–So Do Your Own Homework

There are  a couple of things to remember when you’re looking for a dog. While there are some truly wonderful breeders out there who will make it their business to give you the straight scoop on their breed — and you should do everything you can to find one of these breeders — don’t forget that breeders are in the business of selling their dogs. And many breeders will assume you’ve done your homework.

In fact, it is up to you to make sure you have done the requisite research. Start by asking the right questions–vets and positive dog trainers are fountains of helpful information.

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

While many people get drawn to a particular breed by its looks, most assuredly with dogs, looks can be and often are deceiving. For instance, many people assume that small dogs are friendly and easy-going. Some are, but just as many aren’t.

While many people think of Dobermans, Rottweilers and Pit Bulls as aggressive, in a study of 33 dog breeds published this year in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science, it was found that you’re more likely to be bitten by a Dachshund, Chihuahua or Jack Russell Terrier. They got that way by bad breeding, and not enough training and socializing.

On the other hand, some of the Dobermans, Rottweilers, and Pit Bulls I know are the most wonderful and trust-worthy dogs you’d ever want to meet. They got that way by good breeding, but also by good training and good socializing.

Bottom line: There are two people responsible for the experience you will have with your dog — you, and the breeder. Good dogs start with good breeding, and they stay that way with good training and plenty of socializing. This can not be said often enough, so let me repeat myself.

Good dogs start with good breeding, and they stay that way with good training and plenty of socializing.

So if you want a wonderful companion, do your breed research: talk to breeders, trainers, vets, and other owners of the breed you’re considering. and then train, train, train, socialize, socialize, socialize, socialize, socialize, and socialize. And you will have the dog of your dreams.

Oh. Why did my friend cross the Papillon off her list? She wanted a dog that wasn’t a barker, wasn’t aggressive, and wasn’t so fragile that a bump from one of our other dogs could possibly break a bone. Here’s the Papillon’s description: 7-10 pounds (fragile) alert (barker), big dog personality in small package (possibly aggressive). Need I say more?

Good Books to Help You Choose

If you’re in the market for dog, I highly recommend any of these books. They do a great job at giving a balanced view — in English, not in Code — of various breeds. Click on any book for more information.

Paws to Consider book cover     Dog Selector book cover

The Perfact Match       Right Dog For You

And one last point to consider that Suzie, a reader, left as a comment and to which I heartily agree:

“Please consider adopting a shelter dog as an alternative to purebred.  There are so many dogs dropped off at shelters for the very reasons you mentioned and it’s shame that the majority of them have to be killed, that’s what happens to them..”put down” sounds so much nicer but killing is what it is.  You might even find a purebred at the shelter or check with local rescue groups.  Sorry about getting up on my soapbox..I’ve had many dogs over my 69 years, purebreds at first and now I have two shelter dogs. A male Malamute and female Shepherd mix. It’s a wonderful feeling to look into their eyes and know that I saved them…in return I get so much love..”

15 thoughts on “In the Market for a Dog? Know the Code”

  1. Before we adopted our Genevieve, we tried a 5 month old puppy. An Australian Shepard/Border Collie mix. Our in-laws had a dog that was this mix, and she was a calm, sweet dog. So we tried it out with ‘Anna’ (named for Anna Karinina), and she was NOT the dog for us. She was a very good dog. She was raised on a farm, with a litter of working dogs, and needed to be with a bunch of dogs in a field chasing sheep, like her parents had done. Well, we stupidly adopted her into our little condo with no yard, and she pooped all over our daughter’s room, barked at her, and chewed on our furniture. I think she was truly a good dog, just not the right match for our lifestyle. We took her back, and thankfully, they took her. Our daughter was HEARTBROKEN and told us that if we didn’t intend to keep her FOREVER, we should not have brought her into the house. Out of the mouth of babes, huh? So we learned our lesson. The next dog we got, we were very careful, watched for warning signs, and made sure it was right before we adopted her.

    Thankfully, everything worked out very well, and Genevieve is a great match with our family. She is a Keehond/Sheltie mix, that we got from a Keeshond rescue. She’s sweet and quiet and smiles at us. She’s not terribly playful, but then again, she doesn’t pee and poop everywhere, doesn’t bark at our daughter, and doesn’t chew on the furniture.

    That was my lesson in doggie research. Your list of warning signs here, as that’s how I think of them, is great.

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  2. I often tell people that bullmastiffs are “a lot of work upfront, but they can be wonderful dogs if you do the work. If you aren’t willing to do the work then you will have 120lb nightmare on your hands”.. and then I tell them I paid twice what I actually paid for them.

    Because mine are cute,socialized and totally in love with people, kids, cats, sticks, butterflies and other dogs (mostly). But that didn’t come easy. Willful creatures that they are.

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  3. Great post as usual. Some people might think this was humorous, but dogs are a big investment, emotionally and economically. You do need to read between the lines.

    My MIL was taken by our Belle, because of her looks. So she took an internet quiz to see if she should get a Border or not. Turns out she was well suited to a Border Collie!! This was very interesting to us, since Belle was an Australian Shepherd, and this woman absolutely hated dogs, needless to say, when she actually found out Belle was a Aussie, and that we had figured out she lied on the test, she was a little embarrassed. She never did get a dog – thanks heavens. I think if you haven’t liked dogs for more than 65 years, you aren’t going to start!

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  4. Well, as the “mom” to two chihuahuas who really wanted a Papillon . . . while nature has something to do with it, for sure, I think nurture has a whole lot more to do with it.

    Both of mine are good with kids, at least when we’re out on walks — not sure how they’d do on prolonged exposure. Sometimes Chester gets a bit overwhelmed by them, but he’ll just come to me. Lola loves the attention.

    They’re both way too big for Chis at about 10 lbs, but they aren’t fragile, really. I mean, they jump on & off beds no problem, and they both do agility — A-framed & all.

    A little barky . . . yes. Not terrible. And actually, recently when someone rang my doorbell at 2:30 am & then again at 3 am, I was quite thankful for how protective of home they are — I’m quite sure they were part of what made whoever it was decide it wasn’t worth it.

    But yes, sometimes you do have to read between the lines, for sure. We didn’t do that with Lola’s “lively” description . . . she just doesn’t know the meaning of tired, but she has learned to settle.

    Did I actually have a point? Not sure. I guess just a bit defensive for chis & Papillons, which my dogs are often mistaken for.

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  5. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the “read between the lines” things. For instance, I would describe my dog as alert, but she rarely barks. By rarely, I mean I could go a week or more without hearing a sound from the dog and the mailman didn’t even know we had a dog.

    Maybe this was meant to just be a humor piece, but if someone doesn’t see the humor inherent in it they might very well defer to it and NEVER get a dog.

    Reply
    • Katie, while I hope readers find humor in the way I wrote this post, I’m also deadly serious about breed descriptions often being misleading. And while there are always exceptions to the rule, I offer these “between the lines” interpretations as a heads up for the unknowing and inexperienced dog buyer. I’m not trying to scare people away from getting dogs. Quite the opposite — I’d like to ensure that people get a dog that makes a good fit for them. That means one less dog that winds up in a shelter or at a rescue facility, or worse, dead.

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  6. “Should be supervised with children and other animals = NOT good with children and other animals.”

    I take your point, but in fairness young children should never be left unsupervised with any dog, no matter how well trained or good natured. Children are unpredicatable and might accidentally make a movement or noise that a dog finds threatening. A bite from a smaller dog might cause less damage physically, but can cause a lifetime of fear (and a not inconsiderable amount of pain) unnecessarily.

    Couldn’t agree more with the bit in bold – let’s hear it for responsible breeding, training and socialisation. Keep up the good blogging!

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  7. I so wish I had read this a year ago. I know in the too soon future my family will be looking for a new member again. I’m saving this for then. Here’s my question to you: is it possible to get an eight week old puppy through rescue, and if a puppy is not properly weaned from her mum does this automatically men trouble?

    Reply
    • Nutmeg, eight weeks old is the soonest a puppy should be taken from its mother– whether from Rescue or a breeder. Any earlier and there could be health problems, both mental and physical. If you know that the puppy was with the mother for the first eight weeks, then you should be good to go.

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  8. First off, I must fully agree about the ‘positive spin’ the AKC puts on dog breeds. In my honest opinion, the AKC has ruined many dog breeds. But that’s another soapbox. The reason I popped in to leave a note, is I wanted to mention another avenue for getting honest breed advice:

    Talk to breed rescues. These folks knew the best and the worst traits of their breed, and they have no desire to see any more dogs placed in homes that aren’t fully appropriate for that breed. They’ll give you honest truths about the breed you’re considering, and give you honest opinions on how well the breed will fit into your family.

    Also a point: About 70% of shelter dogs are pure-bred, but without papers. Many dogs that are surrendered are purebred, and some shelters will take your name and number, and call you when a specific breed comes in. Yes, you may get a dog with a little mix in it, but if you’re looking for an older dog, this is sometimes a perfect avenue to go through.

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  9. Please consider adopting a shelter dog as an alternative to a purebred. There are so many dogs dropped off at shelters for the very reasons you mentioned and it’s a shame that the majority of them have to be killed, that’s what happens to them..”put down” sounds so much nicer but killing is what it is. You might ever find a purebred at the shelter or check with local rescue groups. Sorry about getting up on my soapbox..I’ve had many dogs over my 69 years, purebreds at first and now I have two shelter dogs. a male Malamute and a female Shepherd mix. It’s a wonderful feeling to look into their eyes and know that I saved them…in return I get so much love..

    Reply
  10. We have two ACD’s…need I say more? Our newest addition is just 4 months old. So much of what you wrote is TRUE, especially for this breed. Even thinking we knew what to expect, this new one was a shock. She’s so different than our older male was at that age. I shudder to think what her fate would be in the hands of someone thinking they were bringing home a “carefree frisbee and jogging companion”

    Reply
    • she_beast, nope, you need say no more! LOL! Actually, I love ACDs (Australian Cattle Dogs – for those not familiar with the abbreviation). Lucky for your little girl that she did land with you and not someone less experienced.

      That’s the thing. Each dog within each breed is as much an individual as each person is within each family. But, we can make breed generalizations that are true enough often enough, so as to be helpful in giving us an idea of what the “normal” range of energy, behavior, temperament, etc., is going to be.

      Reply

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